Thursday, January 19, 2012

Pastors and Money, Jesus and Paul

This post is a response to a comment from a friend, who was responding to Tuesday's post, Tithing.

For the issue of giving to the local church, we have to look to Paul because, as you say, Jesus was dealing with a pre-local church context. In fact, he was dealing with a Jewish context where tithing was a part of Torah, and he encouraged the people to tithe. "You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former." (Mt. 23:23)

So then, to Paul. This is from 1 Corinthians 9.

1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? 2 Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

3 This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. 4 Don’t we have the right to food and drink? 5 Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? 6 Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living?

7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? 8 Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

13 Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

15 But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast. 16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

Verse 14 is crucial because Paul declares a command directly from Jesus, that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. Paul, however, lets the Corinthians off the hook in this regard, not because he's being magnanimous, but because of their stubborn and judgmental hearts (v. 3).

The problem is not that Paul shouldn't be asking for money and is, it's that the congregation is judgmental toward and offended by him when he does. The root of this problem, as I stated in the previous post, is that money is an idol for all of us.

Let me go one step further. Almost every pastor I know would do the ministry for free if it were possible. I can't think of a single person in the ministry, that I know personally, who is doing this because it seemed like a wise career choice. They are all doing it because they believe God has called them to the task, and they are so passionate about the proclamation of the Gospel that they would forsake lucrative careers in other fields to give their whole lives to the mission of Jesus. (In case you were wondering, a Master of Divinity is the only Master degree where the typical holder earns less than those with just a Bachelor degree.)

Nobody goes into ministry for the money. I, myself, ministered for free for 2 years. I'm trying very hard to minister for free right now, and am extremely grateful for the generosity of Ember Church in the meantime. Paul ministered for free because the people in Corinth were hard-hearted and judgmental. (In fact, it's more likely that he had to rely on the support of other, more generous and kingdom-minded churches to supplement what he lacked from his tent-making work.) But that is not God's plan for those who preach the gospel. Again, verse 14, "The Lord [Jesus] has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel."

We could even drop down another level and talk about what Jesus commanded his disciples when he sent them out in, say, Mark 6. (Which is the passage I'm preaching from this week at Ember.) Verse 8, "Take nothing for the journey except a staff--no bread, no bag, no money in your belts." What is he saying? He's saying, "Trust my Father to provide for your needs through the generosity of those to whom you preach." So even as far back as the first commissioning of the disciples we see that Jesus' intention is for them to "receive their living from the Gospel."

Someone might say, "Well that's convenient for you to say, guilting people into giving so that you can earn a salary." But that cynicism doesn't negate the explicit command of Jesus. While we pastors, Paul included, might walk on eggshells and put up with a lot because of this cynicism and judgmentalism, it is not what Jesus intends for his church. And the cynicism is wrong. It is, biblically, wrong. But we pastors, like Paul, put up with it for the sake of the gospel. We hem and we haw over money, and we pussyfoot around because we think that, because we earn our living by preaching, we don't have the moral authority to preach on money. That's simply bogus. If money is a near-universal idol, and the Gospel has something to say about all of our idols, and we're called to preach the Gospel, then we've got a moral obligation and a command from Jesus himself to preach on money. If you (and this is a general you) as a Christian are offended by biblical teaching on money, then your idol is showing, and you should expect God to do something to your idol along the lines of what he did to Shiloh, and then to the Temple in Jerusalem.


Preston said...

Andy -

I think another reason this is a touchy topic is that just as a pastor preaching about money can be seen as a wolf in sheep's clothing, a person speaking out against the concept of tithing can be seen as a person who doesn't think a pastor (an educated, qualified professional) deserves a salary.

Churches need money. That's just an unfortunate fact. They need to pay their pastor(s) a living wage (all the pastors I know and care about very deeply have wives and children to support), they need to fund whatever building they use, and then there are the recurring costs for supplies, etc..

People need to release (or be released from) their idols, of which money, status, fame, and career are but a few. Thus pastors are duty-bound to preach on such matters, and if the parishioners disagree with what is said then (God willing) that's their fault, not the pastor's.

The problem is, the more the church members release the idol of their money to God through the church, the more the church has of this very same idol. I'm not saying that a church treats money as an idol in the same way an individual does, but you see the point: the person who NEEDS to benefit from releasing their idols may or may not benefit, but in either case the church definitely benefits. Benefits to a church are undeniably a GOOD thing, but I think the conflict of interest is obvious.

For me, as well as for many other people, the word "tithe" has oppressive connotations. When I hear that word I get a sinking feeling that the church I'm sitting in believes it knows better than God what God has planned for my life. When I'm told (directly or much more often indirectly) that if I don't tithe (meaning giving 10% directly to my church, regardless of other ministries) but I give significant portions of my income (I haven't calculated a percentage -- nor do I ever intend to -- but it meets Lewis' definition because yes, it hurts) I won't receive all the blessings God has for me, it makes me want to get up and leave. But as we all know, there's nowhere else to go. I do believe my church deserves a good portion of my charitable giving. The church provides me a priceless service, and should be compensated at the very least enough to continue to keep its doors open. The problem is, nobody ever tells me how much the church needs to stay open, they only tell me that I should give more. (I wish I had been present when you discussed this with Ember... it sounds as though I would have applauded you for your transparency and openness in the matter.)

(to be continued...)

Preston said...


This is why, where I am right now and where I see myself going in my Christian walk, I could not pastor a church in the traditional sense of the word. I've thought and prayed at incredible length about how a church could be arranged such that it would help people realize that generosity is the way of God, and help them get further from idols and closer to God, while still remaining open and paying the bills... but so that there would be absolutely no conflict of interest. I feel so strongly about giving being between the giver and God, and I feel so very convicted by the scriptural studies I've done on the matter, that I could never stand in front of a room of people and with a clear conscience tell them that my particular Christian nonprofit was any more worthy than the others they feel God leading them to support, and that my particular ministry was unique in that it alone held the key to releasing God's boundless blessings on their lives.

Honestly, I need more faith. If I were to pastor a church, my heart's understanding of God is that if he wants my ministry to thrive it would thrive even if my sermons about money were based solely on the Bible... and if I simply made my church's financial status transparent to the public. But my brain doesn't want to accept that as a possibility, and that's what I sense most pastors thinking when they use the word "tithe".

Pastors need to encourage people to release the idol of money. They also need to encourage people to support them financially, and explain why, how much, and what blessings recent giving has wrought for the community and the world. These two topics should not, however, be discussed simultaneously; the former is a sermon topic. The latter is material for the weekly announcements.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your Posts on this Topic Mr. Preston!! Very Enlightening!! I enjoyed reading what you had to say!!! :)

Chris said...


Really good stuff. Jesus spoke about money pretty often, so it seems like its something he wants us to know about. We all need to work on this idol.

Katie said...

Thanks for your insight into reasons why believers are called to support the local community of believers we are apart of. I know personally your heart for the local church and being a pastor you clearly are inclined to have more focus on discipling local believers into a deeper relationship with Christ and therefore need funds to do so. I get it and I support that.
I would like to present an equally Biblical stance on the issue of giving that maybe you overlook because of your passion for the local church.
Fulfilling the Great Commission is, in my opionion, of first importance. We see that the Great Commission didnt start in Matthew, but all the way back to Abraham in Genesis 12. And Jesus' return will happen when all people hear about Him. So right now, those who have not heard are in the 10/40 window of the world. Those missionaries who are taking His word to that part of the world dont have a local church to support them there. So they need the finances to do so.
I don't think that anyone can say what is more biblical: supporting the local church or missionaries. I think it is a matter of how God has moved in your heart and how He speaks to the individual about where to give.

Jennifer said...

Hi Katie! I understand what you mean about missionaries not having a local church and fulfilling the Great Commission. My interpretation of what Andy suggests is not that we shouldn't support missionaries, but that our first duty is to the local church and that missionaries be given "out of our abundance," meaning above our tithe if it is in our power to do so and if we have been called to do so. Andy, please correct me if I am wrong.


andy said...

Jennifer has framed my position well. I certainly don't want to be dogmatic about this, so I won't be. But I think we ought to consider that missions agencies and parachurch organizations are a relatively modern development. In the New Testament, missions were borne out of a local church. Maybe there is wisdom in that? I think we would have healthier missionaries and more effective missions if each missionary was sent from a local congregation rather than a massive sending agency.

As for tithing, consider these numbers, which are all very rough estimates.

40,000,000 Christian families in America (roughly 50% of the population).
$50,000 average annual salary per family. (Seems reasonable, though I don't know for sure.)
If each family gave 10% to the local church, that would be an annual intake of $200,000,000,000. Not a typo. 200 Billion dollars.
Cut that in half for operating expenses, mortgages, staff salaries, local missions, etc. (which is far, far, far more than what churches spend on those things now) leaves local churches with a combined missions sending power of $100,000,000,000.
Let's say there are roughly 10,000 people groups in the world. Local churches could pay missionaries an average annual salary of $50,000 and send 200 missionaries to every people group in the world.

Those numbers aren't 100% accurate, but I believe they're at least in the ballpark. Something to think about.